De Pierres, Marianne. Peacemaker [2014, Angry Robot]
I do keep wandering down the dusty road to future-westerns... Something about our past regurgitating itself into what may come is perhaps a comfort, perhaps a subversion of the fear of the ever-arriving unknown, the unconquerable tide of change.
Or perhaps I just like robot gunslingers.
Either way, my tracks lead me back here into this Westworld world, this saddle-sore story pit. Luckily this time around, a gem awaits in the desert dirt. De Pierres is an Australian author of 'speculative fiction' (as her site puts it) and here she speculates on the bleak yet entertaining notion that the last scrap of land untouched in Australia is actually an artificial park, shaped from the red dust of the island continent, yet flavoured heavily from the mythology of the Old West.
Our hero is a 'ranger' of this huge tourist magnet, tasked with keeping a watchful eye on this incredible chunk of land, surrounded by mirroring walls that shut out the sight and sound of the dirty and heaving city around it. The rather outstandingly named 'Virgin Jackson' (which sounds like some awful airline tie-in if the King of Pop were still around) is happier out in the 'wilds' than amongst humans, but a killing on site and an attempted one of her off both force her to confront not just the mystery but her relationship with colleagues, friends and a new arrival.
This newcomer is from the States and goes by the name of Marshall Nate Sixkiller (I know, I know...) and carries the attitude and Stetson such a moniker suggests. Together they overcome their differences and encounter animal spirit guides, weird tattoos and bombs in alleys, all in the attempt to find out how is killing who.
As the story progressed it felt like Pierres got more and more confident, more and more free. And the book benefited, for whilst my reaction was fairly negative due to some clunky dialogue and cliched characterisation, something happened as the city was gradually revealed, and I realised I was reading an excellent sci-fi .. sorry, spec-fi.
As the investigation continues some of the awkward notes remained but the story propels itself so quickly, and often surprisingly, and so I strongly recommend this refreshing read. Virgin is a complex and absorbing heroine, and the Australian dystopia she lives in is one I'll happily revisit when Pierred continues what is promised to be a series.
Bonuses: +1 for having what is sadly still fairly unusual - a female character undefined and unobjectified, and a fully-fledged yet flawed person
Negatives: -1 for a frustrating ending that leaves you hanging for the continuation in the series but not in an especially excitingly manner
Nerd Coefficient : 7/10 " an enjoyable experience but not without its flaws"
By English Scribbler, gunslinger, two-bit word-whore and contributor to the 2-years-young Nerds of A Feather since 2013.